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It is hardly news that Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s rightwing foreign minister, is a bruiser who does not mince his words. But he still managed to provoke anger and dismay at home when he warned Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad this week that he would see his regime collapse if he dared to attack the Jewish state.

Lieberman was accused of “playing with fire” and “fanning the flames” after Assad – no slouch either when it comes to raising the regional temperature – claimed Israel was pushing the Middle East to a new war. “Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war,” the Moldovan-born former nightclub bouncer told businessmen. “Neither he nor his family will remain in power.”

Verbal spats between Damascus and Jerusalem are part of the landscape of the Middle East. Syria and Israel are at odds over Lebanon and Iran but they have not fought a fully fledged conflict since 1973 when Assad’s father, Hafez, joined Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in launching that year’s October war. The Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, is still a heavily fortified frontline. But it has been a quiet one for 36 years. guardian

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